Summoning Tactics


Advice


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With all the changes to summoning, I thought it might be good to discuss tactics where you should or should not summon. Here are some of my thoughts on tactical summoning:

First, you never want to summon out of a slot that is not your highest level. They are just too far behind for that to work out well. Similarly, you don't want summons to engage with bosses, or even on-level threats. This doesn't make them worthless in boss fights necessarily, but they should only go after the mooks or else serve to block mobility for the boss.

Their offense is so low against strong opponents that the boss will probably not bother unless the summon is in the way of them. That said, physically larger summons could plausibly slow an enemy down by taking up more of the field. They can also provide flanking. As soon as a boss starts focusing on the summon they quickly die. This is good, every attack a summon absorbs is an attack that doesn't kill the party and damage that doesn't need healing.

They might actually be decent in fights with lots of foes. More enemies tends to mean lower-level enemies, so they might be weak enough for the summon to contribute damage. If the summon does damage reliably they also become a target for the enemy, which as mentioned above is generally a good thing.

Other thoughts/commentary?


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Lower level summons that have innate spells are always useful, specially if it have buffs or utility spells.

Summons are disposable, so putting them in the middle of the enemies to help flanking or just to take damage is a good strategy.

Summons that use the basic save system (like dragon breath) for an attack is great for triggering weakness because you get half damage even if the enemy succeed their save and even 1 damage will trigger the weakness.


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Be careful on innate spells however, if they are too high-level the summon spell automatically ends when the summon attempts to use them, and the spell fails to occur.


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While there are ways to make Summons as good as it can be, odds are you want to cut out the middleman, um, middle monster.

From what I can tell examining Xenocrat's lists (I think that's who posted them), Summons give versatility more than power. You can get a flyer, maybe a grabber, maybe an AoE, a flanker, and a meat wall. The creatures can do some damage, but it's spotty.
The creature won't be particularly good at any of those, but you only needed one spell to get all those options.
And you have things few other spells can do, like feed a mindless creature as a distraction or give you an extra set of hands or eyes (or sonar!). Heck, maybe even get a translator for one minute. Lots of neat ideas.
But not much power.

If you do want a wall, get a wall. Or a flyer, get Fly on your warrior. Black Tentacles for grabbing. Spiritual Weapon for an attacker. Illusory Creature for flanking. And so on. Odds are your direct damage spell would have more effect on a combat.

I do like the idea of summoning a dragon vs. hordes of minions, spamming even its below-level AoE would be pretty cool. And it's a dragon.
There's that going for summoning; you get play with lots of cool figures.


Castilliano wrote:

While there are ways to make Summons as good as it can be, odds are you want to cut out the middleman, um, middle monster.

From what I can tell examining Xenocrat's lists (I think that's who posted them), Summons give versatility more than power. You can get a flyer, maybe a grabber, maybe an AoE, a flanker, and a meat wall. The creatures can do some damage, but it's spotty.
The creature won't be particularly good at any of those, but you only needed one spell to get all those options.
And you have things few other spells can do, like feed a mindless creature as a distraction or give you an extra set of hands or eyes (or sonar!). Heck, maybe even get a translator for one minute. Lots of neat ideas.
But not much power.

If you do want a wall, get a wall. Or a flyer, get Fly on your warrior. Black Tentacles for grabbing. Spiritual Weapon for an attacker. Illusory Creature for flanking. And so on. Odds are your direct damage spell would have more effect on a combat.

I do like the idea of summoning a dragon vs. hordes of minions, spamming even its below-level AoE would be pretty cool. And it's a dragon.
There's that going for summoning; you get play with lots of cool figures.

I largely agree that it is better to have the good solution, I'm mostly exploring this as part of trying to bring back some summoner-esque characters from 1e. Casting fly is very different from unleashing a living whirlwind on your enemy conceptually, even if the former is strictly superior to the latter.


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The other thing to note is the Summon X spells will get better with every bestiary printed, as the new creatures can be summoned with the spell. Now, I doubt we will get creatures more powerful then the ones we have {or if so, there going to be 'Uncommon' at the very least) but it will give more of that flexibility in what you can summon and what they can do (in addition to fixing certain levels of the spells having nothing to summon.)


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Yeah, my impression so far researching which monsters match up with which summon spells/levels is that they're all worse than another option, but they do offer some flexibility and the potential to do a few different things poorly instead of one thing well with an alternate spell. So some blocking (until it gets critted to death with a couple of hits) and some minor damage (if it's slightly lucky on its attack rolls), maybe a very inefficient way to get a poor DC spell that you didn't' prepare yourself.

This versatility is deliberately undermined by splitting the summon spells up so widely, and circumstantially limited right now by only having one Bestiary. I don't think summoning will ever be a great tactic, but it will be more defensible as a fun thing that is defensible as we get more bestiaries.


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Do other spells (Summon Dragon) catch up later? How would/does the ability to summon weak/elite (-1/+1 level versions of creatures) creatures impact their usability?
Summons being meh makes me sad.


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WHW wrote:

Do other spells (Summon Dragon) catch up later? How would/does the ability to summon weak/elite (-1/+1 level versions of creatures) creatures impact their usability?

Summons being meh makes me sad.

Biggest problem is that the summon is between 2 and 5 levels behind the PC and the new tight math means they have trouble contributing. Elite/weak won't fix that. Augment Summoning is marginally helpful, but a 1 point shift doesn't do much.


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WHW wrote:

Do other spells (Summon Dragon) catch up later? How would/does the ability to summon weak/elite (-1/+1 level versions of creatures) creatures impact their usability?

Summons being meh makes me sad.

Catch up how?

In power? No. Summons are tightly tied to the level system which has clearer standards than PF1 (which had a lot of baggage from 3.X).

In versatility? A bit. When you can choose a dragon to get a breath weapon you want or a dragon resistant to your enemy's attack, that's pretty sweet. There is a trouble though that since they're minions, it's hard for them to maintain flight while doing their best tactics. And some handle various terrains really well and them speaking is a bonus.

But the numbers remain similar.
If you can get a dragon with a Weakness that the enemy can't exploit, you'll get more h.p. than normal. That's true of the other Summons too, but most have no Weakness.

Another way to take advantage of Summons is to link them to your party's strengths. If your healer spams AoE healing, get a creature w/ high defenses which leads to lower h.p. Those bonus h.p. are worth more when well protected. Or if your Bard Inspires Courage, get a creature with a lower attack because they're typically doing more damage. Or if you want a flanker, get a cat who gets precision damage from flanking.
A Summons may only give you half a warrior, but it can benefit from the party to become more like other members (hopefully) do.
And don't forget their skills if you want them to Trip or Demoralize, as they might have a specialty that goes above norms, but isn't part of the normal power numbers.


Summons are usually 4 levels behind, so in average -4 to hit stuff compared to a PC, that value is around the second MAP with an agile weapon.

Levels that have proficiency upgraded shifts the math a bit though.


Kyrone wrote:
Summons are usually 4 levels behind, so in average -4 to hit stuff compared to a PC, that value is around the second MAP with an agile weapon.

Not to mention that its defenses (AC, Saves) are also going to be -4 behind a PC, meaning that a hit from an enemy is 20% points more likely to crit and with -4 levels worth of hit points, that leads to more "well, it absorbed ONE attack..."

Summons in PF2 end up being "about as good" as summons from Gloomhaven. That is, you bring them out as a free action ("I fiddle with my ring that summons a skeleton") in order to block a door or absorb a hit, as its unlikely to survive long enough to make an attack.

(This is until you unlock the 5hp summons, or in the case of the [spoiler] class, the 3 hp ranged summon at which point it can absorb TWO attacks)


As a tangent.

Does commanding a summon break stealth?

if not, could you make a stealth summoner? A stealth guy commanding summons while remaining unseen and or escaping unseen.
That could be a fairly fun reoccuring villain.


Zwordsman wrote:

As a tangent.

Does commanding a summon break stealth?

if not, could you make a stealth summoner? A stealth guy commanding summons while remaining unseen and or escaping unseen.
That could be a fairly fun reoccuring villain.

You aren't required to command a Summon, unlike an Animal Companion minion. You maintain the spell.

But, unless you have another way to communicate with your monster or gave it comprehensible instructions before you hid, it's just going to attack your nearest enemy in a way the GM feels suits context.

And I don't know the rule for PF2, but in 3.X and I think PF1, if the summoned creature is the main combatant, reward XP based on it rather than the caster (who then is worth zero XP at that time).
If the caster's the main combatant, then the summoned monsters add no XP since it's factored in the caster's power level.
Though if you wanted to make a unique summoner, you could make an excuse for it having extra monsters "summoned", but through plot-magic rather than the NPC's abilities.


Zwordsman wrote:

As a tangent.

Does commanding a summon break stealth?

if not, could you make a stealth summoner? A stealth guy commanding summons while remaining unseen and or escaping unseen.
That could be a fairly fun reoccuring villain.

My reading is that it should break stealth, but it's ultimately up to your GM to determine what an indirect hostile action is. If he wants to allow the build, he certainly can.


Augment Summoning has also changed significantly. Right now it helps a little, and enhances your highest level spell (assuming you summon our of your best slots), but it isn't a feature you always want to use. Tactically it seems good for any turn you need to move, for instance if you want to duck behind your summoned monster to get away from the enemy augment is a decent idea, but if you have your 2 actions available for whatever your cantrips will probably help more. Effortless Concentration feat makes it better to use because you have the time to do so. However, as a Conjurer you might be better off grabbing dimensional steps and saving your focus for emergency teleportation rather than trying to pump up your summon. As a conjurer wizard I think having 1 summon prepared at your highest spell level isn't necessarily a waste, assuming the bestiaries support summoning a creature from that spell, but I wouldn't prep more. It is a versatile tool and you get a free spell slot for it, and your focus encourages it, but you probably don't need 2 (and can squeeze out a second in a pinch through your bonded object).


Draco18s wrote:
Kyrone wrote:
Summons are usually 4 levels behind, so in average -4 to hit stuff compared to a PC, that value is around the second MAP with an agile weapon.

Not to mention that its defenses (AC, Saves) are also going to be -4 behind a PC, meaning that a hit from an enemy is 20% points more likely to crit and with -4 levels worth of hit points, that leads to more "well, it absorbed ONE attack..."

Summons in PF2 end up being "about as good" as summons from Gloomhaven. That is, you bring them out as a free action ("I fiddle with my ring that summons a skeleton") in order to block a door or absorb a hit, as its unlikely to survive long enough to make an attack.

(This is until you unlock the 5hp summons, or in the case of the [spoiler] class, the 3 hp ranged summon at which point it can absorb TWO attacks)

Well, that one attack is still probably that enemy's only "full BAB" attack for the round which is not bad at all if you are fighting just one big enemy. For context: consider a spell that is essentially a 3 action 1 slowed. I could see myself casting that spells sometimes. No imagine a spell that makes an enemy slowed 1 and makes them lose their "first" attack bonus each round. That is essentially what happens when the big bad swings hard on your extradimensional rodent friend.


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Why would it swing at the summon when the summon cant even damage it properly?


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Temperans wrote:
Why would it swing at the summon when the summon cant even damage it properly?

It isn't necessarily the case that the summon can't damage the monster, just that the summon will do less reliable damage than the party. Against foes roughly on-level (for the summoner) a summoned creature can hit 40-50% of the time, so the summon can realistically do some damage. Things like Augment Summons or Inspire Courage help this. In a single-enemy fight you don't bother summoning because the summon won't do much. In a big fight with lots of on-level (ish) enemies however, the summon could become a relevant combatant even lagging behind as far as they do.

Also, sometimes the bigger summoned creatures will restrict movement due to sheer size, so either the enemy has to move in a way they do not want or dispose of the summoned creature. Both are advantageous to the party if setup correctly. And if they don't you can always use the summon to setup flanking.

This is kinda why the thread exists, to brainstorm tactical ways to use summon spells considering how limited they are compared to 1e.


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Not every enemy necessarily knows that the summon can't do damage. If I fielded a tiger vs my players and they would summon a dire rat, I would totally have the tiger run after the rat at least for a round.


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Yeah there's also a lot of ways to swing the attention to the summon through circumstances. For example, my players were fighting fire elementals and summoned a water elemental. The little droplet was way weaker than the fires, but he landed a hit doing weakness damage, which drew all of their agression for a round. Even if the little dude hadn't landed the attack, the fires would probably have wanted to get rid of it.

You can also do stuff like summon before your party has engaged, and many foes will go after the closest target.

You can also use a low level summon as a trap trigger if you have spotted something but don't have the means to disable it safely.


OMG, I can't believe I forgot trap triggers!
*facepalm*

Many of my PF1 PCs have 1st level scrolls for just that!

Ambush triggers too.

Lots of utility and operational trickery available.
Balances the lack of power.


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They can also lure enemies to you when used correctly. Which is very good for setting up your own ambushes, especially when combiner with a snare specialist.


I was referring to the Big Bad swinging at the summon while slowed. If it's really a big bad its would be at least lv+1, which means that at best (with no buffs) the summon has -5 to hit.

A summon acting as an automatic decoy to me honestly sounds like a GM taking pity.

**********
Also yes characters (specially when they are smart/extraplanar) should know a summoned creature is considerably weaker than the summoner.


Temperans wrote:

I was referring to the Big Bad swinging at the summon while slowed. If it's really a big bad its would be at least lv+1, which means that at best (with no buffs) the summon has -5 to hit.

A summon acting as an automatic decoy to me honestly sounds like a GM taking pity.

**********
Also yes characters (specially when they are smart/extraplanar) should know a summoned creature is considerably weaker than the summoner.

I wouldn't especially say that a creature made out of fire wanting to get rid of a creature made out of its greatest weakness's to be taking pity. And there's lots of dumb or mindless threats out there too.


Draco18s wrote:
Kyrone wrote:
Summons are usually 4 levels behind, so in average -4 to hit stuff compared to a PC, that value is around the second MAP with an agile weapon.

Not to mention that its defenses (AC, Saves) are also going to be -4 behind a PC, meaning that a hit from an enemy is 20% points more likely to crit and with -4 levels worth of hit points, that leads to more "well, it absorbed ONE attack..."

Summons in PF2 end up being "about as good" as summons from Gloomhaven. That is, you bring them out as a free action ("I fiddle with my ring that summons a skeleton") in order to block a door or absorb a hit, as its unlikely to survive long enough to make an attack.

(This is until you unlock the 5hp summons, or in the case of the [spoiler] class, the 3 hp ranged summon at which point it can absorb TWO attacks)

If you put the summon in place to fight an enemy which is party level or less it can reasonably survive 1 critical hit before disappearing, with exceptions for particularly low-defense summons or heavy-hitting monsters. 2 attacks isn't much better than 1, but it is better. For bosses they do die in 1 crit.


Unseen Servant has a 10 minute instead of 1 minute duration for those circumstances where it can serve as well as a 1st level summon for trap triggering or advance activities. But being invisible, weightless, and weak, there's plenty it won't be able to trigger, so buyer beware.


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Captain Morgan wrote:
They can also lure enemies to you when used correctly. Which is very good for setting up your own ambushes, especially when combiner with a snare specialist.

Not sure how well this will work for the summon X spells. You have to scream magic with an accompanying laser light show to cast, and only have 1 minute afterwards to hide from whatever you are ambushing. Unseen Servant may work better, drape a bedsheet with holes cut in over it.


Temperans wrote:
Why would it swing at the summon when the summon cant even damage it properly?

Even if they don't take a punch, it is still a chance of damage every round in addition to the caster's 2-action spells/cantrips. It is also a warm body that denies ground and grants flanking. Sometimes it gets reactions and various other effects too; there is that one CR 5 aberration that generates difficult terrain, for instance.

They really are still pretty useful, imo. Summons are just not the best spells in the game anymore.


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I'm looking into the Summon Fey spells.
The Grig seems like solid choice to spam Fiddle (DC18).
I think a starting Bard might be expected to have an 18 Charisma and a spell DC of 16.
At level 3 the casters DC should not have increased yet.
I might be wrong about that but if I'm not one casting of a 2cond level slot could give ongoing debuffs at a better DC than the casters own.
The Grig can Fiddle and then Sneak, as Fiddle is a single action.
At level 5 and 7 there are increases to casting DCs from ability boost and expert spell casting.
At 5th, the Grig could still be relevant at DC18, from a second level slot.
None of the newly available summoning choices seem to have a similar Spell DC.
At level 6 we can use 3rd level slot and summon a dryad to spam Entangle at DC 21, better than our own presumed 18 DC.
Above this level, the creatures DCs don't keep with the casters.
But between 3rd and 6th level, it Summon Fey seems to have really two good choices for battle field control /debuffing.


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The Ronyon,
Spell DCs include level too.

So at 1st, a standard DC is 17 (4 Stat, 2 Trained, 1 Level=7) and at level 3 the caster's DC most certainly would've gone up.
Grig is still a good casting, because you're getting 2 sets of 2 actions (net), so you can cast alongside it while it tosses sonic damage at flat-footed enemies.
And against a boss, any action spent on killing your summoned creature is the boss losing an action against y'all (which can be a fine trade for your round).


Thanks for setting me strait on that, and evaluating these options.


Could the Aid action be a way to squeeze more usefulness out of a Summon?
Can a summon even use Aid?


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Unfortunately, summons typically can not use the 'Aid' action. This is because 'Aid' requires a Reaction, and summons do not get a Reaction. You could possibly do it the other way around and use an Aid action to help out your summons Not sure how viable it would be though, given your going to have to use an action on your turn to set it up, and use up your reaction. {Could be a decent use for a 'Third' action, but you usually going to be down an action already to keep the summon up.)


I've actually had pretty good experience with summons so far. Monsters tend to have better to hit bonuses but worse AC than PCs in my experience, which actually makes it easier than you'd think for a summon to contribute. It won't last long against a boss, but a minion a couple levels lower than you is another story.

And honestly, with as hard as enemies can hit, anything that draws aggro away from the PCs is good.

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